What to make of Seahawks' opener

September, 15, 2010
9/15/10
2:14
PM ET
Raise your Seattle Seahawks pom-pom if you thought the team was going to put a 31-6 beatdown on the San Francisco 49ers in Week 1.

The point: Only an optimistic Seattle fan could have seen it coming. Before the opener, I was hearing from fans who thought the team was doomed after making moves that appeared to be for the long term (but actually paid off right away in some cases).

I've gone through the game a second time and put together some thoughts.

Offense

[+] EnlargeHasselbeck
Joe Nicholson/US PresswireMatt Hasselbeck completed 78.3 percent of his passes in Sunday's win.
The biggest surprise, in my view, was the Seahawks' ability to hold up in pass protection. I thought Russell Okung's absence at left tackle and Alex Gibbs' abrupt resignation as line coach a week before the opener signaled bad, bad, things for Seattle. I thought line issues would prevent quarterback Matt Hasselbeck from functioning against a 49ers defense that doesn't give much ground in the running game.

Tyler Polumbus was better than expected at left tackle, generally holding up against the 49ers' pass-rushers even when Seattle did not help him. I underestimated him. I also underestimated the impact offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates would have on this game. The 49ers probably did, too. They were outcoached. Bates showed an ability and willingness to adjust that I cannot recall seeing from a Seahawks staff. Mike Holmgren could be a brilliant playcaller, but his implementation of a rigid system was his strength -- and also a weakness, I thought, when personnel issues begged for greater flexibility.

Give Holmgren three or four seasons to implement his system with the same core players and he'll field a diverse, dynamic offense. Give Bates one offseason to work with a reconfigured roster and he'll field the best possible offense for that week. That is my general impression after one week. Can Bates keep it going against defenses that will be increasingly familiar with Seattle's personnel and tendencies? That will be tougher -- the 49ers did not play smart or particularly well -- but there was much for Seattle to like about the first game. I'm thinking Bates will have a good plan against Denver, his former team.

The combination of Bates and Hasselbeck made the 49ers look silly at times on defense. They baited defensive players into jumping short routes, only to strike further downfield with double moves. These were not halftime adjustments, either. Seattle implemented them on the fly after 49ers cornerback Nate Clements picked off Hasselbeck's first pass with a bold gamble. A double move freed Mike Williams for a 35-yard gain against Clements in the second quarter. Tight end John Carlson used a similar move to outfox safety Michael Lewis for a 19-yard gain (Lewis even held on the play, but Seattle declined the penalty).

Speaking of Williams, did you notice his 6-foot-5, 230-pound frame powering through illegal contact (declined) from Shawntae Spencer? Williams caught a pass for 17 yards on the play. A smaller receiver -- even a veteran such as T.J. Houshmandzadeh -- might not have made that play appear effortless. Releasing Houshmandzadeh looked like a get-young move at the expense of the short term. So far, not so much. Deon Butler and Deion Branch caught touchdown passes. Williams' size gave Seattle something it couldn't get from Houshmandzadeh on the outside.

Bates' preference for using two tight ends was well known. I had joked last week that we might see the team using four tight ends at once -- all aligned to protect Hasselbeck from the 49ers' onslaught. Get this: Hasselbeck completed all four pass attempts for 32 yards and a touchdown from a personnel grouping the team ran very sparingly over the previous decade: one back, three tight ends, one receiver. That's right, three tight ends. And those extra tight ends weren't lining up primarily as pass protectors, either.

Hasselbeck attempted passes from each of the seven primary NFL personnel groupings, unusual for an NFL team during a single game. The running game didn't gain much traction, but most offenses aren't going to run effectively against the 49ers.


Defense

The Seahawks are bigger on their defensive line and the results were mostly predictable.

Nose tackle Colin Cole was more active than I might have anticipated, tracking runners after they had broken through the line.

Defensive end Chris Clemons validated coach Pete Carroll's theory -- hope, really -- that Seattle would have success generating a pass rush when backed by crowd noise at Qwest Field. Clemons was a problem for the 49ers. He beat left tackle Joe Staley a few times, and quarterback Alex Smith wasn't able to beat pressure.

The secondary was supposed to be better, and it was, with cornerback Marcus Trufant healthy and rookie free safety Earl Thomas providing needed range at safety. I was surprised to see cornerback Kelly Jennings tackling fearlessly and effectively. Thomas was also a very willing tackler.

Having Lofa Tatupu healthy and back in the lineup at middle linebacker made a significant difference. His feel for the game and ability to communicate information to teammates brings together the defense. Few linebackers have a better feel for the game.

Second-year linebacker Aaron Curry showed good strength and tenacity. I don't get the feeling Seattle wants to see him in coverage much. The 49ers' Delanie Walker was a tough cover for him. But Curry appeared to make positive contributions near the line of scrimmage.

Special teams

The 49ers had a couple decent returns, but Seattle's coverage teams hit hard. Dexter Davis made Ted Ginn Jr. pay for a 16-yard punt return.

Leon Washington had a 41-yard return for Seattle. The snapper, Clint Gresham, did one-hop a punt snap.

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